(above) Casey Church (a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians of southwest Michigan), presents Commissioner Tracey Tidd, territorial president of women’s ministries, with an eagle feather, in recognition of The Salvation Army’s ongoing commitment to the journey of reconciliation

After two years of being unable to gather in person, close to 200 people attended The Salvation Army’s fifth annual Celebration of Culture: The Call of the Drum, held in partnership with Indigenous Pathways, at Pine Lake Camp in Alberta from August 26-28. 

“This event shows The Salvation Army’s commitment and desire to continue investing in the journey of reconciliation,” says Major Shari Russell (Saulteaux), territorial Indigenous ministries consultant and associate director of NAIITS: An Indigenous Learning Community, one of the members of Indigenous Pathways. 

“The journey requires both learning from and listening to one another,” Major Russell continues. “For Indigenous Pathways, our partnership shows that we know we are stronger together.”

The celebration began with a welcome gathering on Friday evening. Participants introduced themselves while sitting in a circle, rather than in rows, which is an Indigenous custom that promotes equality and a sense of community. 

The event committee presented gifts to the weekend’s guests, including those sharing traditional teachings, musical guest Jonathan Maracle (Mohawk) and artist-in-residence Michelle Stoney (Gitxsan). The gathering ended with a round dance, as everyone joined hands in a circle.

“It’s a symbol of many nations joining together,” says Captain Crystal Porter (Mi'kmaq and Euro-Canadian), assistant territorial Indigenous ministries consultant. “It teaches that we all complete the circle.”

Later that evening, Damian Azak and Anthony Moore (Nisga’a Nation), from Gitwinksihlkw in northwestern British Columbia, invited everyone to help prepare a feast. In the Nisga’a Nation, the community provides a feast for the family when a loved one passes away. About a year later, the family hosts a feast for the community. There is also a “standing up” feast, to mark a special occasion or celebrate an achievement. As Celebration of Culture participants chopped beef and diced vegetables for stew, they experienced what it was like for a community to come together. 

Two women smiling and dressed in Indigenous regalia
Shaunteya English Eagle Child (Kainai, Piikanii) and Jamie Medicine Crane (Kainai, Piikanii) participate in the pow wow on Saturday afternoon

On Saturday morning, attendees learned from elders, who shared traditional Indigenous knowledge. Mary Thompson, a shelter manager at the Army’s Centre of Hope in Calgary, spent time at a teaching lodge with Lora Church (Navajo), and says she found Church’s description of family life, and how she considers her nieces and nephews her own children, very impactful. 

In the afternoon, grey skies and rain couldn’t dampen the joy of a pow wow, which began with a smudging ceremony to invite Creator into the space, led by Casey Church (a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians of southwest Michigan). The Grand Entry signaled the official opening of the pow wow, and then Vincent Yellow Old Woman (Siksika Nation), the master of ceremonies, called for dancers to enter the arena.

A pow wow is a social gathering that features dancing, singing and feasting. Music for the pow wow was provided by the host drum, Sorrel Rider, as well as Jonathan Maracle and others. Indigenous dancers performed several styles of dance, such as traditional, fancy shawl, jingle dress, grass and hoop, and everyone was invited to participate in intertribal songs. The Four Crest Dancers, led by Damian Azak and Anthony Moore, shared several dances. 

A highlight of the pow wow was an eagle feather ceremony, held each year to reaffirm The Salvation Army’s commitment to the journey of reconciliation. Since last year’s Celebration was an online event, there were two feathers added to the eagle staff, presented by Casey Church and Anthony Moore. 

“It’s a great honour to have received this eagle feather today,” said Commissioner Tracey Tidd, territorial president of women’s ministries. “This Celebration of Culture weekend has been a cornerstone for the work of truth and reconciliation within The Salvation Army across our territory. 

“I want you to know that we, in leadership, are building on [former territorial commander] Commissioner Susan McMillan’s steps on this journey and looking forward to walking together as we take new steps. We are humbled by this gift, not only personally, but on behalf of The Salvation Army.”

After the pow wow, it was time for the feast, which was prepared by elder Diane Smith (Nisga’a Nation), with help from others from the village of Gitwinksihlkw, and simmered all day. 

The Sunday morning worship gathering began with a pipe ceremony outside, led by Casey Church. In Indigenous teaching, tobacco represents prayer and thanksgiving. Then participants were invited to visit one of five prayer stations—to smudge, offer intercessory prayer through a tobacco tie, reflect on the gift of community, be stirred to action on the lack of access to clean water for many First Nations communities, and connect to the Creator through sacred medicine.

The Celebration of Culture concluded with music from Jonathan Maracle, including his song Call of the Drum, which inspired the theme for the event, and final thoughts from Commissioner Tidd.

“The words of the song have echoed throughout the weekend, and we will carry them home with us,” she said. “God has been speaking, encouraging and challenging us to be a people of reconciliation. 

“May the beat of the drum continue to resonate deep within us—to call us into lifelong learning, to apply what we have learned and to allow the love of our Creator, expressed in Jesus, to fill and overflow from our lives.”

To see more photos of the Celebration of Culture, visit our Facebook page.

Photos: Giselle Randall


On Thursday, September 1, 2022, Aimee Patterson said:

I'm so sorry car troubles kept my family from attending. We prayed that the event would be meaningful for all who attended. I am so glad to read and see that it was!

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